With all our heart, we believe the President is committed to benefiting black Chicago.
But this isn't about the President.
THIS IS AN ELECTION ISSUE.
Around Chicago and around the country black families are being priced out of their neighborhoods
by the effects of extreme racial wealth disparity, created by centuries of government-led structural racism.
How will The City of Chicago and The University of Chicago make rightwhat they have done wrong
as global buyers set their sights on yet another black communityripe for the picking?
Will our Mayor and Black Caucus mobilize at last to protect African American communities from displacement?
The conversation begins here and now -- in America's definitive black neighborhood redevelopment.
We promise to work unceasingly with those we have elected to ensure our needs are met.
Mike Kelly sent an urgent email to Mayor Emanuel after the Jackson Park deal was struck, urging him to pretend the PGA golf course was a community idea, and to bundle it with the Obama Center development. In Arnstein's Ladder of Civic Participation [http://www.citizenshandbook.org/arnsteinsladder.html] they call this "MANIPULATION," the bottom rung of "NON-PARTICIPATION."
Also bundled was the "long overdue update" of the South Lake Framework. Major redevelopment functions happening in the same time, same place, involving the same decisionmakers, but requiring the further pretense that they are unrelated. Also "unrelated" would be soaring land values triggered by Obama Presidential District real estate speculation.
Research the Chicago Plan Commission best of Master Plans - the resulting documents, their implementation over time, and just how much time their planning took. Neighbors, we are witnessing the very essence of a Master Planning Moment - while we're being told [in a trail of breadcrumbs that can only end in sticker shock and other "hey wait a minute" surprises] that we have "input." But exactly what changes have we "put in?"
The City of Chicago, The University of Chicago, The Obama Foundation, and developers in the Obama Presidential District must all be aligned on community development values, communications protocols, democratic community voting for how our neighborhoods should be developed, and have some central place where promises are specified, recorded, tracked, results reported, and wrongs made right.
The process is complex with permanent impacts. This scale of planning requires management across multiple departments and administrations where people come and go, and we should take our time, have conversations with pencils and maps on tables in large rooms - not play ping pong. For certain, this is our Master Planning Moment.
No one is exempt from negotiating with the public simply because they're a non-profit. Tax exempt organizations like the University of Chicago massively purchase and develop land - a mission totally unrelated to their educational purpose - and pay hundreds of real estate personnel to position themselves to churn in millions of profit, often to the detriment of black neighbors, and certainly not for their benefit. Their non-profit status is not decisive in this context. The Presidential Center is being developed on public land. One can't take public land for private purposes and then veto whatever public input that's not preferred. We have a right to our vote.
And while African Americans certainly trust our President in ways we cannot trust the University of Chicago - trust has never been the issue. Project management has always been the issue, and the project has always been "communities maximizing development benefits for themselves." Transparent, accountable, documented work with permanent impacts.
As for folks "coming out of the woodworks" to claim unearned rights to a voice or vote - that's boogeyman politics: think of some highly undesirable hypothetical and then use it to justify inaction.
Anyone with a good idea should be heard. A discerning former president/lawyer/activist and most everyday neighbors know how to spot and deal with irrelevant spotlight-seekers vs. someone offering sound ideas. We're not just hapless victims of any bad thought rolling in. We're sophisticated thinkers and can create and trust a process that fosters the most input without being hostage to vice.Criteria for what makes an idea good - there are so many public process models used around the world to arrive at customized best practices. Obama Civic Leadership Mentors must surely know many.
So when slumlords and folks receiving social promotions for unenlightened public service come to the table from the woodworks, we're smart enough to know that even they are capable of a good idea, and have the virtue to listen to them. Especially when trust is not the issue, we listen with an open heart. Especially when worst practices can give way - as here and now - to best practices, we should embrace the well-worn, durable, and measurable success of the Community Benefits Agreement in America to:
1) KEEP TRACK OF WHAT'S PROMISED [was it 5 acres or 21 acres or the whole park plus another golf course?]
2) OBSERVE CHANGES TO THE DEAL [I'll take your road and swap it as the extra park land I promised...but I won't tell you how much you'll have to pay for it, or what assets we're selling off to whom, and what benefits they'll get]
3) KEEP THE PUBLIC INFORMED THROUGH ACCURATE PROJECT UPDATES [was the ordinance amended to allow the Foundation to take additional park acres and use it for - anything - including their paid parking lot?]
4) MAKE IT RIGHT WHEN PROMISES AREN'T KEPT [it matters if a developer promises 70 local hires and $1 million dollars to the community and then hires 0 and donates $0 - take a page from Mayor Emanuel's promise from Norfolk Southern when they seized east Englewood].
Nobody claims to want black displacement from Chicago's south lakefront, but no one at City Hall and no one in the Black Caucus has created a policy package to avoid displacement.
Laissez faire is not ok...another in a long list of reasons we need to sit down together and craft a CBA for the Obama Presidential District which commits the University of Chicago, the City of Chicago, the Foundation and other would-be developers to a set of results.
It's not ok for developers to benefit financially from land they purchase in the Obama Presidential District while raising rents and home prices beyond what "Now Neighbors" can afford. Displacement will surely happen.
And yes, Democracy can be messy, but either you believe in it or you don't. And if you believe, you trust the process and#GetItInWriting.
The Chicago Plan Commission wants development promises in writing, and so do we. And we will be at City Hall whenever the Mayor, The University, Foundation or other Obama Presidential District developers are there, to ensure that each and every Chicago Plan Commissioner knows we assert our interest in approving that writing FIRST.
We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show the world a higher way forward in the redevelopment of black communities. We must consider all aspects of development being proposed, propose and fund our own with City support -- and this because we've been inspired to raise our families on Chicago's South Side for generations to come.